Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jim Tracy Blows It For The Rockies

Ouch. This one hurts.

The Colorado Rockies blew a 3-0 lead over the Padres, losing 5-4. It was just the sixth time in 2009 that the Rockies lost a game at Coors Field in which they scored first.

After a three run home run in the first inning off the bat of Troy Tulowitzki the bats went silent, but that by no means was the reason that the Rockies ended up on the short end of the stick.

In the bottom of the sixth inning the Rockies had two runners in scoring position with two outs. Jason Hammel, who was dominating on the mound, stepped to the plate and grounded out to second base to end the inning. While leaving two runners in scoring position hurt, Hammel was pitching so well it seemed like the lead would hold up.

Then came the head scratcher.

In the top of the seventh Hammel gave up a base hit to Oscar Salazar. After Chase Headley hit a liner that was snagged by Tulowitzki. At this point, manager Jim Tracy jumped from his perch in the dugout and headed to the mound. Without thinking twice he motioned with his left hand to the bullpen for lefty Franklin Morales. Hammel, despite throwing just 87 pitches to that point and only giving up one hard hit, was done for the night.

As Tracy was standing on the mound waiting for Morales, some fans were left rubbing their eyes, for a brief moment the slender Tracy looked an awful lot like Clint Hurdle. Hurdle was well known for his propensity to go with his gut and take a starting pitcher out if he felt that he needed a matchup with the opposition. Moves like that are why Hurdle is watching Rockies games on television. One of the biggest changes that Tracy made when he took over was that he trusted his starting pitchers more, allowing them to win or lose their own ball game.

That is why it was so difficult to understand why Tracy was getting Hammel. After all, the right hander had been doing a great job holding the Padres at bay and Morales had struggled his last four times out.

The move was clearly not part of the game plan for Tracy, since he let Hammel hit for himself the previous inning with two men in scoring position. If Tracy was going to go to the bullpen, it would have made perfect sense for him to go to his bench, perhaps to Matt Murton or another right handed hitter, in the bottom half of the sixth. A base hit in that situation would have made the score 5-1 in favor of the Rockies.

Instead, Tracy elected to have Hammel hit for himself, then pull him from the game after giving up just one base hit in the top half of the seventh inning.

While pulling Hammel was a mistake in and of itself, who Tracy went to may have been the biggest mistake. Morales has been struggling since the beginning of the previous road trip, when he walked in the winning run in San Diego in the 10th inning. After that outing he proceeded to get shelled in San Francisco, giving up three runs in the ninth that almost turned into a nightmare for the Rockies, before Rafael Betancourt slammed the door.

Morales proceeded to walk two men, including one with the bases loaded, pushing the Padres second run across. That is when Tracy strolled back to the mound and went to Matt Daley. Daley got an out, but it came via a sacrifice fly, which plated the tying run for the Padres. Joe Beimel then came on to get Adrian Gonzalez to end the inning.

From there, Tracy made his next mistake. Beimel is a specialist. He is tough for lefties to hit. He has an awkward delivery that seems to come from first base. He is tough to hit home runs off of. He is perfect for situations against a dangerous hitter like Gonzalez. Apparently that was not what Tracy thought, as he let Beimel go out for the eighth inning.

Chase Headley led off the eighth inning with a single, and Will Venable sacrificed him to second base. With one out, Beimel gave way to Betancourt, who could not work any San Francisco magic. He got a strike out, but then gave up a base hit, scoring the go ahead run. After another base hit, the Rockies found themselves down 5-3.

In the bottom of the eighth the Rockies climbed back into it, getting a home run from Ian Stewart, and a base hit from Clint Barmes with one out. Jason Giambi came to the plate with one thing in mind, giving the Rockies a lead. Unfortunately for him and the Rockies, Giambi was rung up on a pitch that replays showed was off the plate and home plate umpire Jerry Meals had consistently been calling a ball all night long. Carlos Gonzalez then pinch hit and after a 10 pitch at bat struck out on a pitch in the dirt.

The Rockies mounted another threat in the ninth, getting Dexter Fowler on base with one out. Todd Helton flied out, and Tulowitzki hit a weak pop up to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and the Rockies took the loss.

With Atlanta having the day off, the loss put them within 3-1/2 games of the Rockies. Fortunately the Giants were unable to hold a late lead against the Cubs and fell 3-2, meaning that the Rockies remain four games ahead of San Francisco with nine games to play.

The Braves have quickly made themselves the Rockies greatest fear. They have 10 games remaining, seven of which are against the 100-loss Washington Nationals. The other three fortunately come against the Marlins who still believe that they are in the Wild Card race.

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